In a joint letter to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Lawyers for Lawyers and the International Observatory for Lawyers have expressed their concern about the pre-trial detention and house arrest of lawyer Elchin Sadigov.
On 10 September 2022, Mr. Sadigov was arrested together with the journalist Mr. Avaz Zeynalli and charged with “complicity in bribe taking”. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Sadigov represented Rasim Mammadov, a prominent businessman in Azerbaijan accused of embezzlement. Mr. Sadigov is suspected of being involved as an intermediary. Since Mr. Sadigov is currently under house arrest and could be sentenced to 12 years in jail, he is restricted in his ability to practice law.
Furthermore, we are concerned that Mr. Sadigov’s right on a fair trial is violated. On the day of his arrest, the Prosecutor’s General’s Office searched his home and office, where they confiscated documents and his mobile phone. International human rights law protects the confidentiality of lawyers-client communications as well as the privacy of attorneys’ records as an element of the right to a fair trial.
In the joint letter, we call upon the authorities of Azerbaijan to drop all charges against Mr. Sadigov unless credible evidence is presented in proceedings that respect fair trial guarantees and put an end to all acts of harassment against Elchin Sadigov, including at the judicial level. We further urge that all lawyers in Azerbaijan must be able to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
[N.B. Elchin Sadigov has requested that Bar associations, law societies, human rights groups and NGOs write the President of Azerbaijan in support of his case. Please write:
Ilham Aliyev,President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, The Presidential Palace, 19 Istiqlaliyyat street, Republic of Azerbaijan, Baku, AZ1066, Azerbaijan. Fax: (+99412) 492 35 43, (+99412) 492 06 25 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ]
I state that I have been defending human rights in Azerbaijan since 2002. Furthermore, I have become a member of the Bar Association of the Republic of Azerbaijan since 2007 and have never ceased my activity in defending human rights. I have defended the rights of political prisoners, journalists, media, political figures, activists, and LGBTQ+ persons. I successfully defended those cases in local courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Based on my applications, ECtHR has found a violation of Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 18 of the Convention. My steadfast defense of political cases and being successful before ECtHR irritated the Government of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the Government has constantly been persecuting me.
These prosecutions were mainly carried out by the Bar Association of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the State Security Service. The Bar Association has repeatedly initiated disciplinary proceedings against me for political reasons and punished me.
Even in 2016, there was an attempt to kill me after I was threatened at the Main Organized Crime Department (MOCD) under the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Because at that time, I was defending the rights of Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov, who wrote the graffiti on the statue of Heydar Aliyev, the father of the current president Ilham Aliyev. They were both tortured in the MOCD, and I have made it public. Moreover, at that time, I made public the torture issue of Fikret Faramezoglu, a journalist, who had been kept in the MOCD. I was preparing their applications for the ECtHR.
The Center for Monitoring Political Prisoners issued a statement condemning the arrest of human rights lawyer Elchin Sadigov.
“Azerbaijan is systematically removing from the legal profession the lawyers specializing in the human rights sphere. In recent years, well-known lawyers who were not afraid to defend the rights of many political prisoners, and in particular Khalid Baghirov, Alaif Hasanov, Yalchin Imanov, Elchin Namazov, were expelled from the Bar for unreasonable reasons. Some, fearing reprisals, were forced to leave the country.
In the case of Elchin Sadigov, one of the last lawyers defending political prisoners, the authorities went even further and arrested him, which is undoubtedly related to his professional activities,” said Elshan Hasanov, head of the Center for Monitoring Political Prisoners.
Thus, the process of depriving citizens of high-quality legal protection is being consistently carried out in the country.
“People are actually deprived of the opportunity to receive legal assistance from a lawyer of their choice. Lawyers loyal to the leadership, controlled by the authorities of the Bar Association, are being imposed on citizens. There is no such radical pressure on lawyers even in “Putin’s Russia,” Hasanov continued.
The Center for Monitoring Political Prisoners demands the release of lawyer Elchin Sadigov from custody, restoration of his powers, and demands to repressions against independent lawyers.
Elchin Sadigov saxlanıldı. Baş Prokurorluğun İstintaq İdarəsinə aparıldı. Lənətə gələsiz. Qanunsuzluq sərhəd tanımır. Vəkilin evində, ofisində axtarış aparılır, saxlanılır. Hansısa oğraş yığını isə ölkədə islahatların oıduğunu iddia edir. Eynullasifət gədələr
Lawyer Ilham Aslanoglu (Takhmazov) is arrested for five months on the charge of defamation. Activists believe that he is being persecuted for exposing crimes committed by militaries against colleagues within the “Terter case”.
The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in the spring of 2017, a group of militaries and civilians was arrested in Baku on the charge of collaborating with the Armenian special services and plotting acts of sabotage. According to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), more than 200 soldiers fell victim to torture in the “Terter case”, and eleven of them died.
The human rights Union “For Freedom of Political Prisoners of Azerbaijan” recognized 25 persons convicted in the “Terter case” as victims of persecution for political reasons.
According to Arastun Orudjlu, the head of the East-West Research Centre, Ilham Aslanoglu made public the facts of torture against the militaries involved in the investigation of the “Terter case”.
“Instead of the arrests of the persons guilty of using torture, the one who exposed those crimes was thrown into prison,” Arastun Orudjlu said.
“Serious crimes were committed in the ‘Terter case’. To hide their mistakes, the military top-ranking officials tried to attribute them to the betrayal of the officers, who were severely tortured,” said Namizad Safarov, a coordinator of the Committee against Torture and Repressions.
The Observatory has been informed about the denial of the commutation of sentence for Mr. Elchin Mammad, human rights lawyer, who has been arbitrarily detained on false charges for over a year at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal. Elchin Mammad is the President of the Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth (SULESY), an NGO providing free legal assistance to low-income families and non-profits, as well as the Editor-in-chief of the newspaper Yukselish Namine, which publishes articles on human rights concerns in Azerbaijan.
On December 9, 2021, the Court of Appeal of Baku rejected the appeal filed by Elchin Mammad challenging the October 9, 2021 decision of the Surakhani District Court to deny Mr. Mammad the replacement of his remaining prison term with either a suspended prison sentence or non-custodial alternatives. On November 24, 2021, Elchin Mammad was transferred from prison No. 14 of the Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice to pre-trial detention centre No. 1 in Kurdakhani, where he remained detained at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal. The reasons for this transfer remain unknown. Elchin Mammad’s health has drastically deteriorated during his detention due to the lack of adequate medical care. Moreover, after his transfer to pre-trial detention centre No.1 in Kurdakhani, Elchin Mammad had no access to a bed for some days due to severe overcrowding in the facilities.
The Observatory recalls that on March 30, 2020, the police arrested Elchin Mammad at his home in the city of Sumgait, a few days after he had published online a critical report on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. The police claimed to have found stolen jewellery worth 7,500 manats (around 4,070 Euros) and ammunition at his office. The Sumgait City Court remanded Mr. Mammad in custody on charges of “theft causing significant damage” and “illegal purchase and possession of firearm accessories”. On October 14, 2020, the Sumgait City Court sentenced Mr. Mammad to four years in prison.
The Observatory further recalls that the circumstances in which the verdict was handed down suggest that Elchin Mammad did not benefit from a fair trial. The evidence heard at the trial was inconsistent and should not have led to Mr. Mammad’s conviction, while the investigation phase also appeared to have been marred by police tampering of evidence. Yet, on February 19, 2021, the Sumgayit Court of Appeal upheld the four-year prison sentence of Elchin Mammad and concluded that his right to a fair trial was respected during the judicial proceedings in his case. Moreover, on July 7, 2021, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan upheld Elchin Mammad’s prison sentence. His lawyers announced they will submit his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
On June 12, 2021, Elchin Mammad was transferred to the Main Medical Department of the Ministry of Justice (Central Penitentiary hospital), following an order from the Ministry of Justice of Azerbaijan. Six days before his transfer to the penitentiary hospital, Elchin Mammad fainted. Moreover, he has lost a significant amount of weight while in detention, has trouble walking and swollen legs. Being ill with Hepatitis C, his health condition is particularly concerning and puts him at high risk of contracting COVID-19 in view of the overcrowding and poor prison conditions in Azerbaijan.
The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the ongoing arbitrary detention and the deteriorating health of Elchin Mammad and urges the Azerbaijani authorities to grant him access to adequate and comprehensive medical treatment, and to immediately and unconditionally release him, as his detention is arbitrary and is only putting his life at risk.
1. The present two applications concern the restrictions imposed on the bank accounts of the applicants and on the freedom of movement of the applicant by the domestic authorities. The applicants raise various complaints under Articles 6, 11, 13, 18 and 34 of the Convention, Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention and Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.
2. The applicants’ details and the names of their representatives are listed in the Appendix.
3. The Government were represented by their Agent, Mr Ç. Əsgərov.
7. Soon thereafter the bank accounts of numerous non-governmental organisations and civil society activists were frozen by the domestic authorities within the framework of criminal case no. 142006023. The domestic proceedings concerning the freezing of those bank accounts are the subject of the present two and other applications pending before the Court (see, for example the communicated cases, Imranova andOthers v.Azerbaijan, nos. 59462/14 and 4 others; Economic Research Centre andOthers v.Azerbaijan, nos. 74254/14 and 5 others; and Abdullayev andOthers v.Azerbaijan, nos. 74363/14 and 7 others).
8. Various human rights defenders and civil society activists were also arrested within the framework of the same criminal proceedings in connection with their activities within or with various non-governmental organisations. The domestic proceedings concerning the arrest and pre-trial detention of some of those human rights defenders and civil society activists have already been examined by the Court (see, for example, Rasul Jafarovv. Azerbaijan, no. 69981/14, 17 March 2016; Mammadli v. Azerbaijan, no. 47145/14, 19 April 2018; Aliyev v. Azerbaijan, nos. 68762/14 and 71200/14, 20 September 2018; and Yunusova and Yunusov v.Azerbaijan (no. 2), no. 68817/14, 16 July 2020).
9. In July 2014 the applicant was invited to the Prosecutor General’s Office where he was questioned about the applicant association’s activities. Between July 2014 and 2016 he was again questioned, on several occasions, by the prosecuting authorities about the same activities.
IMPOSITION OF THE RESTRICTIONS ON THE APPLICANTS’ BANK ACCOUNTS
In respect of the applicant association’s bank accounts
11. According to the applicant association, on an unspecified date in July 2014 its chairman, the applicant, went to the local branch of the International Bank of Azerbaijan where he was informed by a bank official of the attachment order.
12. On 14 July 2014 the applicant association asked the Nasimi District Court for a copy of the attachment order and received it on the same day.
13. On 16 July 2014 the applicant association appealed against the Nasimi District Court’s order of 19 May 2014, claiming a breach of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. It submitted that an attachment order could not be taken in respect of its bank accounts within the meaning of Article 248 of the CCrP since neither the applicant association nor its members were accused in any criminal proceedings. It also noted that an attachment order could be taken within the meaning of Article 248.1 of the CCrP only for the purposes of ensuring the payment of a civil claim or the confiscation of property when provided for by criminal law. However, criminal case no. 142006023 was instituted under Articles 308.1 and 313 of the Criminal Code which did not provide for confiscation of property as a sanction. Lastly, it pointed out that the attachment order was disproportionate since, even assuming that there were doubts about the origin of the money received from the United States of America’s National Endowment for Democracy, the attachment order should have concerned only the impugned amount, and not all the bank accounts of the applicant association. Together with its appeal, the applicant association also lodged a request for restoration of the time-limit for lodging an appeal. In support of its restoration request, it submitted that it had never been informed of the Nasimi District Court’s hearing of 19 May 2014 and had obtained a copy of the impugned order only on 14 July 2014.
14. On 18 July 2014 the Nasimi District Court dismissed the applicant association’s request for restoration of the time-limit for lodging an appeal. The court found that the applicant association had failed to submit any evidence showing that there was a valid reason for missing the three-day time-limit for lodging an appeal. The decision did not address the applicant association’s arguments concerning the court’s failure to inform it of its hearing of 19 May 2014 or to provide it with a copy of the impugned order of its own initiative.
15. On 21 July 2014 the applicant association appealed against that decision, reiterating its previous arguments.
16. On 24 July 2014 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, without examining the applicant association’s arguments in respect of the restoration of the time-limit for lodging an appeal.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
Decides to join the applications;
Declares the applications admissible;
Holds that there has been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention in respect of both applicants;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicants, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the following amounts, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement:
(i) EUR 8,000 (eight thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, to the applicant association in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage;
(ii) EUR 15,000 (fifteen thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, to the applicant in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage;
(iii) EUR 1,900 (one thousand and nine hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants, in respect of costs and expenses, to be paid directly into the bank account of their representative, Mr R. Mustafazade;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
Dismisses the remainder of the applicants’ claim for just satisfaction.
In the fall of 2021, the UN Human Rights Committee will review Azerbaijan’s compliance with its international human rights obligations, and more in particular the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Lawyers for Lawyers has taken the opportunity to file a submission on the list of issues prior to reporting to inform the Committee about the situation of lawyers in Azerbaijan.
The submission highlights four main issues: harassment and criminal prosecution of lawyers, disbarment and other disciplinary measures on improper grounds, access to a lawyer, and violations of freedom of expression of lawyers.
Lawyers for Lawyers has long been concerned about attempts to harass and disrupt the work of lawyers who work on cases that engage human rights or represent persons perceived to be critics of the Azerbaijani authorities and have been targeted solely because they are carrying out their professional activities.
We have reported on the cases of multiple lawyers who have faced administrative harassment on improper grounds. The use of disciplinary measures by the Azerbaijani Bar Association (ABA) to retaliate against lawyers for their human rights or professional activities has been a problem for years.
Furthermore, we are concerned about the low number of lawyers in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has among the lowest number of lawyers for every 100,000 in habitants compared to other European countries. This is due to a change in legislation in 2017, which excluded lawyers from representing individuals in criminal cases who were not a member of the ABA. Since 2018, the number of lawyers who are members of the ABA has increased, but still the number of lawyers in Azerbaijan is not sufficient to ensure everyone’s right of access to an independent lawyer of their own choice.
On this day – 30 July 2021 – Azerbaijan celebrates the Day of profession of lawyers of the Republic of Azerbaijan, a day during which lawyers are placed in the limelight. Lawyers for Lawyers uses this day to reflect on and assess the current situation for human rights lawyers in Azerbaijan.
Current situation in Azerbaijan
Lawyers for Lawyers has long been concerned about the attempts to harass and disrupt the work of lawyers in Azerbaijan. These lawyers often work on cases that engage human rights or represent persons perceived to be critics of the Azerbaijani authorities. As a result of these proceedings, the right of Azerbaijani lawyers to perform their professional activities without hindrance isoften disregarded. Moreover, the corresponding rights of their clients to a fair trial (for example, the right to prepare an adequate defense, the right to a counsel of one’s own choosing, and the right to lawyer-client confidentiality) are frequently disrespected.
Harassment and criminal prosecution of lawyers
The abovementioned concerns are laid down in our recent Universal Period Review (UPR) mid-term report. In the report we furthermore mention cases of harassment and criminal prosecution of lawyers.
One of the lawyers mentioned in the report is Intigam Aliyev, a human rights lawyer who has submitted a great number of applications revolving around the right to fair trial, free speech and election rigging to the European Court of Human Rights. Unfortunately, Ms. Aliyev has been subjected to harassment and criminal prosecution in the past and, more recently, has been sanctioned with a travel ban due to an alleged failure to pay a tax debt from 2011-2014.
Another example of criminal prosecution of lawyers in Azerbaijan is the case of Elchin Mammad, who was arrested on 30 March 2020. Only a few days earlier, Mr. Mammad published a critical report on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. On 15 October 2020, Mr. Mammad was sentenced to four years in prison under the charges of “theft causing significant damage” and “illegal purchase and possession of firearm accessories”. Consequently, Mr. Mammad is currently unable to carry out his work as a lawyer. It has been reported that Mr. Mammad was transferred to the Main Medical Department of the Ministry of Justice on 12 June 2021, after allegedly not having received adequate medical care while in detention.
Human Rights House Foundation has raised the situation for legal professionals in Azerbijan and Belarus during the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The statement was released on the sidelines of the Interactive Dialogue under Item 3, and in response to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of Judges & Lawyer’s report.
We agree with the Special Rapporteur that justice systems have been affected in a number of countries, including through threats or attacks against human rights lawyers.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the Azerbaijani lawyer Fuad Aghayev, argued that Azerbaijan “employs several methods to pressure human rights lawyers… It has established political bias in the admission process to the Bar, and suspended or disbarred human rights lawyers”. These continue to be employed in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan has exploited the pandemic to increase pressure on human rights lawyers. It has used the pandemic to justify insufficient implementation of European Court of Human Rights judgements. In addition, human rights lawyers continue to be harassed and disbarred. In 2020, Azerbaijani Bar Association reprimanded human rights lawyer Javad Javadov for raising a legitimate concern about alleged ill-treatment of his client linked to Covid-19 measures.
In 2021 Shahla Humbatova, one of the handful offew independent human rights lawyers left in the country was disbarred and then reinstated after major international pressure.
A dozen of lawyers remain unlawfully disbarred in Azerbaijan, including human rights lawyers Alaif Hasanov and Khalid Baghirov. Moreover, just like prominent lawyers Intigam Aliyev and Annaghi Hajibeyli, several of the younger human rights lawyers are arbitrarily precluded from joining the Bar Association.
Belarus, in the midst of its own human rights crisis, has carried out numerous disbarments in recent months.
Liudmila Kazak is a prominent Belarusian lawyer with over 20 years defending human rights cases, including many cases involving human rights defenders. She was sentenced and fined for allegedly participating in peaceful protests in September 2020 and was subsequently disbarred in February this year. She is one of many such cases.